I recently attended an interfaith event, and it reminded me of how much we can learn from other religious communities. I observed members of other faiths and wondered how so many of them still practice basic disciplines and traditions from thousands of years ago. How is it their religious traditions, albeit somewhat altered, have a prominent place in their life, despite the passing of so much time? I wondered about what the face of Sikhi would be in another 500 years, and I wondered if it would be something I would recognize.
We, as Sikhs, have a history rich with philosophical revolutionaries, defenders of social justice, and champions of selfless service. We pride ourselves in our identity and, even within the diaspora, we have made great strides in preserving the very core of our value system. Our commitment to Dasvandh, however, certainly has room to grow. For centuries, other faiths have had similar commitments, whether it be Zakat for Muslims, the Tithe for Christians, or Tzedakah for those of the Jewish tradition. Giving a tangible portion of one’s earnings has been an integral part of every major religious group. This giving is not just emphasized in terms of service but also in financial support of various causes.
The Sikh concept of Dasvandh also goes beyond philanthropic giving and emphasizes an active form of “Vand Chakna,” or sharing one’s earnings. With the emphasis on sharing, we are reminded of how we, ourselves, have nothing to give but can only share what we have been given. Dasvandh serves as a form of activism that not only furthers Guru’s work but also helps us in our individual battle against ego. The repeated action of sharing leads to a habit of sharing, and a habit of sharing leads to a character that is sharing.
Other faiths place emphasis on this need by making it a responsibility, a fundamental component of their discipline. For centuries, various philanthropic activities have occurred through funding from religious obligation. Hospitals, schools, advocacy groups, soup kitchens and innumerable other measures have stemmed from these religious obligations. How do various faiths keep up this tradition and practice? How do they embed this philosophy in their young people? Growing up I knew of the concept of Dasvandh. My parents were regular contributors to the local Gurdwara, and I was taught at various camps the principles of Dasvandh and Vand Chakna. I was never, however, compelled to give. I never brought it into my daily discipline. I look back, and often wonder why this is. Why did I not commit to this cornerstone? Why did 10% of my first paycheck not go towards the Guru’s work? I often feel ashamed of how long it took me to come to the realization I was not doing my part, of how many paychecks went wasted, rather than serving the Guru, and of the missed opportunities for my community to develop and prosper because of my neglect.
We have a joint responsibility to serve the Guru. Whether this be in educating our young people, developing avenues for Sikhs to channel funds towards Guru’s work, advancing Panthic objectives or promoting a sense of commitment towards sharing and giving, we all must work to reach our potential. The Sikh community has much to share with the world. The blood of Mata Khivi Jee runs through our veins, the work of Bhai Kanhaiya Jee gives us a high standard to live by and the legacy of Bhagat Puran Singh shows us everyone has the ability to give. The Guru has given us many gifts, and with a renewed commitment to Dasvandh, our community will rise to the challenge of truly serving humanity.